- Issue #0 From There to Here
- Issue #1: Life Savers, Inc
- Issue #2 The Kin
- Issue #3: Gather
- Issue #4: Juniper
- Issue #5 Legends of Chaos and Darkness
- Issue #6: Myths and Heroes
- Issue #7: Legacy of One
- Issue #8: Objectivity
- Issue #9 Ladies of Ragnarok
- Issue #10: All Saints and Spirits
- Descendants Special #1: Witches, Goblins and Superheroes
- Issue #11: We Will Be Villians
- Issue #12: Here and Now
- Descendants Annual #1
Floating in the rosy landscape of the Astral Plane, Kareem took note of the environment around him. There, the park was the wild, overgrown heart of the forest that had once stood where Mayfield stood now. Many of the old trees, long uprooted to make room for the manicured foliage and concrete paths of the municipal area, still cast their long, magnificent shadows on the Astral.
Around him, the minds and emotions of his companions also cast their shadows. Arcs of purplish energy crackled between Ian and Alexis. The pair’s astral forms were more closely entwined on the Astral than was physically possible in the physical world. Laurel, as always, glowed, a vibrant, deep, blue with such brightness that Kareem could almost see definition in her astral form – as if she was partially projected onto the Astral Plane.
Then there was Occult. Kareem knew the girl beneath the glamour, despite never having had any direct contact with her. Before, she gave off the same general milieu that most people gave off when not feeling an emotion strongly enough to register on the Astral. Recently, her aura had become more like Laurel; in tune with the emotions of the rest of the world. Kareem wondered what could cause that sudden change and deduced that it was related to the magic she now wielded.
As he considered asking her why she was doing what she was doing – particularly why she hadn’t revealed herself to Life Savers, Inc, a gale lashed at him.
Wind didn’t occur naturally on the Astral Plane. It wasn’t the earthly result of uneven heating of air, it stemmed from sudden and intense turmoil in a creature’s emotions. Even extreme cases, like torture, surprise or genuine love at first sight only generated slight ebbs and flows in what passed for air on the Astral. What Kareem felt coming from the path up ahead was the kind of zephyr that tore umbrellas from people’s hands and made driving high profile vehicles difficult.
It was followed by a rolling cloud of negativity that almost stunned the young telepath. A howl of fury and anguish echoed into the rose colored world.
Mentally reaching out to the device Alexis carried, Kareem started to speak, but what he saw next struck him dumb.
The monster (for there was no other word for it), bounded out of the hazy, underbrush, the leaves of the memory-plants boiling away into the ether wherever they touched its form. On this side of the veil, it was eight feet high at the shoulder and covered with long, shaggy hair that seemed to have been dipped in pitch. Its paws were the size of a man’s head and tipped with impossibly long and jagged razors that exuded a dull, red glow. The worst however was its head – or rather its lack of one. A dull, black collar encircled a neck that ended in a stump, which bled black filth. It was from that weeping stump that the plaintive howl emanated.
Kareem had never seen anything like it. The beast’s tormented emotions so intense that they solidified into a true avatar on the Astral. He had guessed as much when he first felt their presence, but now, he knew for sure: the creatures they were fighting could destroy him just as easily as it could kill his friends in the physical world.
Kareem’s transponder squawked fitfully for a split second. It was the only warning Alexis had before the inugami came tearing down the jogging path toward them. She cursed and started to call up her black heat, but the monster was already in the air.
“Levanto esta pared!” Red light flashed as Occult’s wall unfolded into being just ahead of the onrushing inugami and knocked it back. “That’s not going to hold long!” the spellcaster declared, holding the glass focus up. In fact, the beast was already bounding forward again to assault the magical wall.
Ian and Alexis were ready for it this time. Alexis wreathed herself in black heat and rose sharply into the air while Ian launched a veritable wall of wind as the inugami crashed through the barrier. The resultant vortex threw the roaring creature hard into a tree.
The unfortunate flora had barely begun to collapse when Alexis directed a beam of heat in the direction of the raging monster. This, it took more gracefully, shifting so its orihalcite armor took the brunt of the heat.
““Globo de la fuerza” Occult spoke. The smoke from burning underbrush highlighted the limits of the newly formed barrier.
“Don’t you have a fireball or a disintegrate or something?” Ian demanded.
“I’ve only learned defense spells and some illusion.” Occult admitted, embarrassed. “But last time, it blew up when I globed it.”
This time, however, the inugami’s systems were in total overdrive and it propelled itself, claws first into the force field, orihalcite metal easily cleaving lines of magical force. The entire construct glowed a slight blue as it collapsed feebly around the inugami. Motes of glowing magic clung to its armor, making it appear even more fearsome as it charged Ian.
“Tomo esto.” Occult made a sharp gesture and Ian was lifted out of the path of the inugami. Orihalcite claws tore up chunks of ground as they sought their target. Snarling, the berserk creature wheeled, finding Laurel and Occult.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Laurel said firmly as she held up a grey, plastic cylinder. “Let’s see how much dog is left in there, shall we?” She moved a finger on the device’s surface and suddenly, the inugami howled and reeled as if struck.
“What did you do to it?” Occult asked, gaping in surprise.
“Nothing much.” the older woman shrugged. “Just juiced the frequency on an electronic dog whistle. I figured if it looks like a dog, and barks like a dog, it probably hears like a dog too.”
Staggered by the sound, the inugami was caught between pressing desire to escape the painful sound and its drive to kill the creatures it was bred to hunt. Then the decision was made for it. A loud, sharp whistle shrieked though the speakers in its ears at crippling volume. There was a moment of even more intense pain, then silence.
“Gah!” Laurel shouted, clapping her hands over her ears.
“Was that your thing?” Ian asked from where Occult had dropped him.
“No.” Laurel answered. “Whoever’s holding this dog’s chain just blew out his ear drums to keep him in the fight.”
Its pain gone, the enraged inugami resumed its attack on Occult and Laurel.
Shouting once more in Spanish and presenting yet another piece of glass, Occult erected her magical wall just in time. Learning from the first time, however, the inugami stopped short of the shield and rose up on its hind legs to claw it down with its forepaws.
From the Astral, Kareem watched the tortured astral form of the inugami bearing down on the flickering astral shades of Occult and Laurel. Even if their attacks harmed it, there was little Ian and Alexis could do to redirect the single minded fury of the beast from their allies in time.
He didn’t want to watch them die. He didn’t want them to die at all. Laurel had done so much for him that he could never truly repay her. Above that, she was the warm and caring sort of soul whose loss the entire world would suffer. As for Occult, he didn’t know her personally, but he knew that she was a good person who didn’t deserve the fate that was swiftly approaching her.
Time slowed down. He was used to the ebb and flow of time on the Astral, but this wasn’t the usual flux. It was centered on himself. He felt the ether thicken and coil around him. Was it responding to his thoughts? It had before, yes, but it had never moved and flowed quite as freely as it did now. It was as if it was responding to his own pained emotions, just as the shades of plants had been destroyed in the monster’s passing…
Suddenly, he understood. The Astral was a place where everything was composed of emotion. Stronger emotional footprints erased weaker ones. Stronger wills affected larger changes. If he truly and desperately wanted to save his friends, then he could use the Astral Plane itself to fight back.
Armed with the knowledge, he focused his thoughts on the monster and manifested his will into the ether around him. A spear sprouted from the ground beneath the inugami’s Astral being, impaling it through the belly.
The wall flickered out of being as Laurel and Occult hurried backward from it. Black heat and compressed wind washed over the orihalcite carapace to no avail as the inugami dropped back to all fours to stalk its prey.
Then it screamed a long, inhuman wail. Its entire body shuddered and it struggled to keep its footing. The pain it felt now was nothing it had ever experienced. There was no source; no broken bone, no pierced skin, it simply knew pain.
Laurel and Occult were forgotten now as the inugami span, trying to find the source of its agony. Black fire made its fur smolder and pulse after pulse of air made keeping its footing a challenge, but it no longer cared about that.
It sensed another creature near it – one of the those it was born to kill. But wherever it was, this being was invisible to all its senses, except the sense that delivered the keening call of a psionic using their power.
More pain scarred its being and this time, it stumbled. It was becoming difficult to move. The air was becoming more difficult to breathe as well. More phantom pains ravaged its body. None of this made sense. It had to get away. To heal…
The hideous astral form of the inugami shivered as yet another spear formed in the ether to pierce its hide. Almost a dozen such weapons now jutted from its body, the wounds they had inflicted wept black ichor.
Wracked with pain, the beast turned to flee through the shades of Laurel and Occult.
“You will not hurt them.” Kareem wans’t even sure the creature could perceive his voice. “You will not escape and you will hurt no one else.” The hafts of the spears suddenly grew chains the leapt outward like kudzu, anchoring themselves to the ground to.
As quickly as it had begun to flee, the inugami froze in place, its body practically vibrating with pain. Its throat had grown too raw to continue to shriek, so all that was left was a low whine as it writhed.
A sword formed in Kareem’s hand as he surged forward. Shouting his anger and fear, he plunged the emotion forged weapon into the monster’s dripping throat.
The myriad screens monitoring Six simultaneously returned failure messages. There was a collective gasp from the technicians as the inugami’s head mounted camera recorded its collapse.
“How the hell did they do that?” Asked a slack-jawed Wright.
“Perhaps the woman with the utility harness is a telepath?” one technician offered. “That’s the only way I can explain the sudden cessation of all brain function.
“No.” Another offered. “This was a massive bioelectrical event. The heart, spine and lungs also ceased function at the same time.”
“Work on it.” Wright said, standing up. “Trip the thermate on Six and compile all your findings for me. This operation is official over.”
“A failure, sir?” a tech asked.
“Not at all.” Wright’s look of frustration was suddenly replaced by a businesslike smile. “You didn’t really expect an attack dog to be able to take down prelates, did you? These people fight other people with powers all the time. No, this was a trial run for the inugami so my team knows what they’ll be dealing with. And that—that has been a rousing success. I wasn’t even aware of half of the prelates our inugami encountered.” He moved to the exit. “Rest assured, my friends that you will all get exemplary evaluations from me… save for you, Mr. Simms – the containment pods’ camouflage was ineffective. I pray you’ll have something better cooked up for my people.” With one last glare at the offending technician, he was gone.
“I don’t quite know what to make of this…” Laurel said. She was sitting in the passenger seat of Alexis’s car as the group returned home. The twisted and burned collar from the last dog monster in her hands. “Someone went through a lot of work just to have a few mutant rampages in Mayfield in the week leading up to Halloween.”
“Are we ruling out another spellcaster then?” Ian asked.
Laurel nodded. “As far as I know, no magic spells require highly sophisticated injection systems or high explosives to get the job done. Science made these creatures. It also made this metal. It’s amazing—like nothing I’ve ever outside the realm of theoretical science.”
“Does that mean you don’t know who made it?” Alexis asked.
“I don’t, but it narrows the list quite a bit. There aren’t more than ten scientists with the credentials to even start producing this stuff – and one of them is apparently using it to make sci-fi barding for these monsters.”
“What if they send more?” Alexis asked. “We barely took this one out. If it wasn’t for Kareem…”
“Now that I know what to look for, I’ll modify my astral transceivers to detect their brand of astral disturbance, no problem.” Laurel said, dismissively. “And I’ll make my next dog whistle modification lethal. In the meantime, there’s not a lot we can do until we track who ever’s behind these things down.”
“We can keep an eye on Occult.” Ian said.
“Give her a break, Ian.” Alexis said, “She helped us out tonight. She could have easily let that thing maul you, but she didn’t.”
“Magic is magic.” Ian said stubbornly, “And we’ve learned that it hates us.”
“I’ve been reading that book, Ian,” Laurel said, “Trust me; it’s pretty much just another force, like gravity. Morganna is just a special, insane case. The best you two can do right now is to give me time to work on tracking down the people behind these mutations. For example, I was going to be the one picking up the cake for the party tomorrow. One of you doing that would help a lot.”
“Are you sure we should even have the party with all of this going on?” Alexis asked.
“Absolutely.” Laurel said, “Even if more will be arriving, there are no more in the city now and I highly doubt any will be moved in within twenty-four hours. Canceling our plans now would be needlessly stressful—plus, the kids have been through enough in the past year that I think they really deserve a party.” She smiled at both of them “You both know I’m right, so there’s no point in arguing with me about it.”
And they didn’t. Because Laurel was right. Whatever was happening, whoever was sending the deadly mutants to Mayfield, they couldn’t allow those events and people to stop them from living their lives. Otherwise, they had already failed.
End Issue #10